Monday, January 29, 2024

Review - - The Excitements

The Excitements: A Novel
by CJ Wray
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: January 30, 2024
Reviewed by PJ

A brilliant and witty drama about two brave female World War II veterans who survived the unthinkable without ever losing their killer instinct…or their joie de vivre.

Meet the Williamson sisters, Britain’s most treasured World War II veterans. Now in their late nineties, Josephine and Penny are in huge demand, popping up at commemorative events and history festivals all over the country. Despite their age, they’re still in great form—perfectly put together, sprightly and sparky, and always in search of their next “excitement.”

This time it’s a trip to Paris to receive the Légion d’honneur for their part in the liberation of France. And as always, they will be accompanied by their devoted great-nephew, Archie.

Keen historian Archie has always been given to understand that his great aunts had relatively minor roles in the Women’s Royal Navy and the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, but that’s only half the story. Both sisters are hiding far more than the usual “official secrets”. There’s a reason sweet Auntie Penny can dispatch a would-be mugger with an umbrella.

This trip to Paris is not what it seems either. Scandal and crime have always quietly trailed the Williamson sisters, even in the decades after the war. Now armed with new information about an old adversary, these much decorated (but admittedly ancient) veterans variously intend to settle scores, avenge lost friends, and pull off one last, daring heist before the curtain finally comes down on their illustrious careers.

PJ's Thoughts:

I really didn't know what to expect from this book. I thought there might be a fair amount of humor - and there is - but there is also much, much more. CJ Wray wrote a book I had difficulty putting down, with mystery, danger, poignant moments, life-altering secrets, and flawed, layered characters who kept me coming back for more.

Events unfolded like a movie across my mind as the adventures - both past and present - of these two ninety-something sisters played out over the course of the book. I could visualize Penny and Josephine so clearly. And Archie, their great-nephew, as well. The relationship between Archie and the aunts was so endearing. Granted, it could be a bit frustrating and befuddling for Archie at times, while humorous at others, but always overflowing with mutual respect and love. 

I enjoyed the way the author slowly unveiled the layers of each sister via flashbacks throughout the book. Each of them turned out to be so much more than I had imagined when the book opened in present time. The flashes from present day to WWII era and back - with occasional stops during decades in between - happened sporadically, requiring me to keep my attention focused. Occasionally, if I took a break from reading, I found myself having to re-read pages to reorient myself but for the most part I was able to keep up without confusion. There was a lot going on. These two women did not lead quiet, uneventful lives. I have a feeling I might be reading this one a second time, just to make sure I didn't miss any gems on the first go-around. 

There's a terrific supporting cast - both past and present - who helped drive the story as well as providing insight into events that shaped Penny and Josephine. There's also a fair amount of fascinating historical information about British women who served during WWII, and the sometimes secret missions on which they were sent. 

Humor, suspense, poignant moments, danger, family secrets, and two whip-smart elderly ladies who may be in their sunset years but are still smarter - and more savvy - than the average bear, bring this story to life. I'd love to see it on screen. They'd have to age her a bit but I was picturing Helen Mirren as Penny the entire time I was reading. I give The Excitements an enthusiastic 4.5 stars. 


  1. I belong to two book clubs and The Excitements looks like a good choice for both of them! In one group, we've been leaning heavy on thriller books and for the other, we are having a "pick your own WWII book" month. Thanks for the review as this is a book I may have missed.

    1. Laura, I think this would be a great book club selection. While it is highly entertaining there is also a LOT to discuss!

  2. That's quite a legacy, Annette. So many men came home from that war and never spoke about what they had done. I have uncles who served in Europe but I have no idea what they did. And women came home having been involved in missions that all but a few never knew happened...and would have never guessed involved women. Your Aunt Betty sounds like an amazing woman.

  3. You are right. This would make a wonderful movie. Women of all ages have been under estimated for hundreds of years. Either that or their abilities were recognized and they were subjugated so they couldn't have any influence. From stories coming out about their roles in WWII and other conflicts, they have always played a more important part than ever suspected or admitted. This book is definitely going on my wish list.

  4. PJ - you are right Aunt Betty was a special person.

  5. I will have to seek this out--and in my head, I already picked out Helen Mirren and Maggie Smith as the two co-leads (though yes, aged up) to play in my head.

    1. Blast...I forgot to change the name--this is me, Hellie. :)

    2. Maggie Smith would be an excellent Josephine!